It’s really amazing that the series remains so popular when each sequel, spin off, and tie-in is basically the same game. The player’s character runs about a large field, fulfilling objectives -- usually no more complicated than, “go there!” or “kill this guy, quick!” -- likely killing literally hundreds of foot soldiers in the way. Each subsequent game since Dynasty Warriors 2 (Dynasty Warriors for the Playstation was actually a fighting game unrelated to the rest of the series outside of its setting and publisher) adds systems for customization or strategy on top of the basic gameplay, and the series also boasts secrets hidden so well or requiring such strict conditions that a lot of players probably won’t find them without the help of FAQs. But the game is basically built on the fun of your lone general killing hundreds of grunts. Most of the games even display a prominent on screen kill counter.
But since a good portion of the game’s audience felt the formula had grown stale, Omega Force tried to update it in between developing licensed anime themed iterations of its only theme. Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce was once a PSP exclusive (Xbox360 and PS3 ports are currently available) and is actually a step in the direction that the series probably ought to go, if only in terms of the customization system that it employs.
Part of what separates Strikeforce from its predecessors is its unusually complicated customization system. The player’s general levels up, and can equip two different weapons, four “chi skills,” musou skills, and items, along with usable items that can restore health, etc. The equippable character upgrades are bought at shops, which themselves are upgradable through generals that join the cause in between missions. Upgrading the shops also costs money and materials collected on the battlefield. Character customization actually plays a relatively large role in strategy unless the player intends to grind until the major fights are easy (the option is there). It’s not Armored Core, but it isn’t a simple skill tree or inventory system either.
But mechanics are a dull subject, and honestly, who cares? The Warriors games are really about being an ancient Chinese badass who kills enough people to dam the Yangtze. What Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce does is to fully embrace the over-the-top disregard for anything resembling verisimilitude that other games in the series flirt with. Not only are the musou attacks ridiculous, the characters can go super-saiyin when at full musou.
I think the moment that I knew that something had changed for good came during the final mission of the campaign against the Yellow Turbans. The Yellow Turban rebellion in history was a politically active apocalyptic cult that, much like the later Boxer and Taiping rebels, caused havoc for a brief period of time before actual military force dismantled them in an extraordinarily easy, bloody fashion. In Strikeforce, the Zhang Jiao battles your general of choice in an infinitely tall, lightning generator tower with floating platforms and magic missiles. I am playing as Guan Yu. I go into his awakened mode, in which his beard can only be described as Biblical. It takes a while, but after using all of my items, Zhang Jiao is dead. My next major mission is Hu Lao gate. It’s guarded by a giant stone tiger that shoots lasers.
Okay, yeah. Omega Force always put stuff like that in their games. Zhuge Liang has been shooting lasers from his war fan for years. I think maybe they’ve finally went a tad far afield with this one. That’s not to say it’s a bad game. If I have any complaint, it would be that the later missions seem to really want the player to tackle them multiplayer, and going solo is going to eat up items and time. Otherwise, Dynasty Warriors: Strikeforce is a fun game that I hope will remain a spin-off. It would be a shame if the series from which my friends and I gleaned most of our knowledge of Han dynasty military conflicts ended up becoming more ridiculous than its own Warriors Orochi spinoff.